LA SAGRADA FAMILIA. Wooden representations of the Holy Family--Jesus, Mary and Joseph--carved in the round, made for private devotion. By Manuel Nepomuceno. Ca. 1910.
This beautiful devotional santo grouping depicting the Holy Family (La Sagrada Familia) is the handiwork of a largely-unknown 19th century sculptor, Marcelo Nepomuceno (b. 4 Sep. 1870/d. 7 Sep.1922). Born in Sta. Cruz, Manila to a woodcarver father, Pedro Nepomuceno, he learned to sculpt in his father's taller.
Largely self-taught, Marcelo learned religious iconography through books like Triunfo de la Religión de Jesucristo by Joseph Feuhrich
and La Sagrada Familia by Felix
As a member of the Centro de Escultores, an association of Filipino sculptors in the early 19th century, Marcelo was a contemporary of Bonifacio Arevalo, Graciano T. Nepomuceno (who might have been a relative), Eulogio Velarde, and Anselmo Espiritu. Like them, his early works comprised mainly of religious art which were often commissioned by clients and patrons. Very few of his works are known, even to his children, so this exquisite carving gives us a glimpse of his carving mastery.
Known for his controversial and unusual artworks, Marcelo once made a sculpture intended for display at the Exposición Regional de Filipinas in 1895. Entitled "Espiritu y Materia,", it showed a priest embracing a nude woman. It was never exhibited after religious groups protested. Another entry to the St. Louis Exposition in 1904 entitled "Trece de Agosto"showed a woman with a bolo warding off an eagle and a lion--which was interpreted to symbolize the two colonizers power over a people's quest for freedom. His non-secular works include award winning designs for Rizal Day floats. At least one work, "El Triunfo del Patriotismo Sobre la Muerte "(The Triumph of Patriotism over Death) earned a Gold Medal.
Marcelo was married to Faustina Mijares who bore him ten children. One son, Marcelo Nepomuceno Jr. followed in his footsteps as a religious sculptor of note.